The Gravel Metric in Three Vignettes.

I’ll begin with a confession. I intended to try hard and do well. I’m fairly certain it’s uncool to say that, but ah well. I’m not a fantastic rider. I’ll stay in the lower categories of racing because I don’t care enough to race enough and pay enough to have someone change that category. That being said, I wanted to give the GM a solid attempt to see where I fell in among the ranks. And so it went.

Elva and Locust
It started to get fun at mile 30. I had been riding with a couple guys and we all pressed onward to trudge down Elva together. Close behind us was a gaggle of maybe 10 other riders that seemed to materialize out of the mud. I knew how bad it would be. Elva is hardly rideable on a dry summer day, let alone after weeks of rain and an hour of constant downpour. I would roll the bike, lift the bike, hup hup hup a few steps and then drop the bike to push it on again. The water off the tall grass would fill your shoes as you marched and then gush out of the top of your shoe with every step. Poison ivy crossed my mind and brambles criss-crossed my shins. The respite as we turned on to Locust was short. I flossed my brakes with long grass and kicked my shoes clean. Not a mile down the road, we were greeted with the “Road Ends” sign and the riders around me grabbed their cue sheets – the thought we’d missed a turn, but I knew it was about to get interesting. The jaunt down Locust was met with almost juvenile glee. Riders were whooping and hollering as they slid and skid and fell on their faces. I fell the most. Then we hit the crossing.

Here’s what it looked like last year:
and then here’s what it looked like just after I crossed:
And when the rain stopped, the creek was waist deep and fives times as wide. Impassible.

The current was strong enough to push my feet along the slimy asphalt. I put one foot off the edge of the submerged pavement and used some very private muscles to keep me from sliding into the splits. The bike acted as a sea anchor – solid enough that I could actually lean against the current and stay upright.

Haumesser Road.
After riding out and back up Woodlawn, which was flash flooding under our wheels, we made our way north on Haumesser Rd. Getting there was a trial, after losing the wheels of the group I was with and fighting to get back on, I was on autopilot. This automation helped me phase out the steady lightening bolts cracking all around me. I’ve never been so close to lightening – I saw a vivid purple flash and heard what sounded like God ripping up the cosmic carpet above. This is when I realized (just then – not any earlier), that this was an insensible time to be riding my bike. I also started to think long and hard about the fine print on the waiver we made everyone sign at registration. I rode harder – knowing there was no sense in stopping. Only hypothermia, cramping and macabre speculation awaited me. The rain was falling so hard at this point, I felt more drenched than I had ever been. I’ve never been this wet swimming. The rooster tails were filling my gums with Haumesser Rd and I was spitting gobs of silt. My eyeballs were drowning in their sockets – the splashing came from every direction. My glasses were worthless. I watched the road and the wheel in front of me by looking straight down, under the lenses.
Here’s a good picture of what I remember the length of Haumesser looking like:

In all honesty, I spent most of this time thinking about my wife. She was somewhere on the course behind me. She knew I was going to give the GM an honest go, so she rode it at her own pace. She was wise enough to turn left and head home early – only to be rescued, but I didn’t know this of course. I dreaded the thought of her being out in this storm, but also felt powerless to do anything but keep going. All I could do was keep pedaling – I couldn’t help anyone where I was. There was a strange comfort in the single-mindedness of the moment. That comfort turned to bliss as we reached Gurler and finally turned out of the headwind. Everyone sat up for a moment, and then that bliss quickly morphed into a searing pain down the inside of my legs as I watched the group tear away from me. I caught up once and was completely emptied by the effort. Their relentless 30mph pace at this point shattered me and I think the blue Jolly Rancher in my lip was the only thing that kept me going.

The first thing I asked when I rolled into the finish was “Is anyone dead?”
There were so many ways people could have found themselves dead on this ride. I was certain there’d be bad news waiting for me. I had envisioned the Police finding me on the course and bringing me in for gross negligence. I was told I finished in the top ten and wrote it off as a mistake – I knew a handful of monsters who were ahead of me – but they had misread the cue sheet. It wasn’t a race, right, so there were no real winners. I felt satisfied regardless. I had ridden as hard as I could without crippling myself. I also enjoyed myself immensely.
I showered up and wore all the dry clothing I could find. Strangely, I did not feel cold until I got out of the warm shower.
As riders came in, they were all smiling. This was proof to me that I was surrounded by (fellow) lunatics. Our BMX basement transformed into a men’s locker room and everyone gathered under the mighty Reznor heater to get their temps to normal. To my recollection, there was no complaining or dissent. Everyone was happy to be there – whether they rode the whole course or took the wise shortcut home. The volunteers greeted everyone warmly and told them where to find heat, salt, and beer. The soggy parade continued for hours, even after the masses had migrated to the post-ride party. We botched the raffle, but had enough schwag to hand out to everyone. I sat for a long time and enjoyed watching people devour sandwiches seasoned with hours of effort and agony. The rehashed events got more extreme as the beer ran out. At first it was recounting a stormy day on the bike, but by the end, we had survived a minor apocalypse – which was way more fun than I thought. Everyone here is awesome and everyone here is insane.

Tobie DePauw

This entry was posted in Death Prevention., Gravel, Route Details, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Gravel Metric in Three Vignettes.

  1. nathan says:

    sounds insane man! i just checked to make sure my shoes were still dry after reading this.

  2. Zach Thomas says:

    Thank you and your crew for one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life.

  3. Matthew says:

    Agree with Zach. Can’t wait for next year. All who finished are badass!

  4. Katie says:

    The Elva/Locust stretch of this route traverses my childhood bicyclying haunts. I grew up in the house on top of the hill on Locust. It was not uncommon to ride down the road and try your luck crossing the “Slippery Creek” without falling. I’m not an avid rider now, but reading about your trek along there brought back a lot of memories. Enjoy the ride this year!

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